Taha Ahmad’s photographs of the life of artisans behind the fast eroding art of mukaish badla
Lucknow, the erstwhile cradle of art and literature in Northern India has a lot to offer and documentary photographer, Taha Ahmad celebrates this rich heritage in his series, Swan Song of the Badlas. Ahmad, who feels that photographs play an important role in creating and “influencing discourse for the future,”uses this photo series to take a look at the disappearing art of mukaish badla, a form of embroidery that was once prosperous in Lucknow during the 18th century.
“Lucknow’s culture has always compelled me to dig into the roots of its rich civilization, which has always been a centre for arts and literature in the diverse landscape of India. The Gomti River, which flows through the city, always reminded me of the royal splendour of Lucknow. As I grew close to the city, I was introduced to the city’s art and craft which became an important moiety of my breath explaining why the city was highly praised for the textile culture. These art and crafts used to blossom and are still a part of each and every family in Lucknow,”says Ahmad.
Popularly known as mukaish, this form of embroidery involves inserting threads of gold and silver into fabrics. It was originally used to add to the glamour of chikankari, another popular embroidery from Lucknow.
At the height of its popularity, mukaish travelled the world but today it is relegated to old Lucknow and niche customers. The artisans who specialise in this technique are called Badlas and once there were 3,000 of them in the city, now only 25 remain. They are all over 65-years-old and work in dingy warehouses, for up to 10 hours a day and are often exploited by their masters who own the means of production. The silver and gold threads have been replaced by metal and soon they will all die out—the Badlas and the art they represent.